Film

Two Italian Horror Films Capture Women Struggling Against Institutional Sexism

From luxurious estates (The Long Hair of Death) to mental asylums (Slaughter Hotel), these two Italian scare flicks depict women fighting against institutional power and sexism.


The Long Hair of Death

Director: Antonio Margheriti
Cast: Barbara Steele, George Ardisson
Distributor: RaroVideo
Year: 1964
US DVD release date: 2014-12-16

RaroVideo has released excellent discs of two very different types of Italian horror: the '60s black and white period gothic melodrama of The Long Hair of Death and the gaudy, contemporary '70s giallo Slaughter Hotel. Both are excellent examples of their types, and they're united by a vision of how women are victimized by men in powerful institutions--royalty, the church, the medical establishment. The former is explicitly about the rage and revenge of women against these power systems.

Set around 1499, The Long Hair of Death is a moody, graceful, dark, mysterious story that borrows elements from previous Italian gothics. It opens with a woman being burned as a witch and cursing her accusers. Her older daughter (the bewitching Barbara Steele and her cheekbones of death) comes to an unfortunate end as well, but this doesn't stop her from showing up years later to seduce the handsome scoundrel of a duke (George Ardisson) responsible for her family's troubles. Her sister is played by the beautiful Halina Zalewska, an especially good bit of casting.

This complicated, simmering story consists largely of having Riccardo Pallottini's camera glide seductively along labyrinthine corridors, spiral staircases, and dusty dungeons to accompany the various skulkers while Carlo Rustichelli's throbbing music stirs our guts, all of which it does all that very well. The style casts a voluptuous spell. The plot has an air of inevitability, or the "archetypal" -- we've seen it before -- but it's still confusing enough to keep us guessing for long stretches.

This gorgeous print is the best the film has ever looked, and now U.S. viewers can see the better Italian version with English subtitles. The print has the English credits, which lists the artists under pseudonyms like director "Anthony Dawson" (Antonio Margheriti). The English soundtrack is also available and differs in interesting ways. In the Italian, the burning woman predicts that someone will die on the last day of the century, but the English dialogue isn't so specific, and it's a good thing, since the timing of the vision is off. The Italian version also has the Duke lapsing into a long, Poe-like voiceover at the end, which the English edition wisely dispenses with. The most important extra is an interview with the director's son.

DVD: Slaughter Hotel

Film: Slaughter Hotel

Director: Fernando Di Leo

Cast: Klaus Kinski, Rosalba Neri

Year: 1971

Rating: Not rated

US DVD release date: 2014-12-9

Distributor: RaroVideo

Rating: 5

Extras rating: 4

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/slaughterhotel_brart200.jpg

Slaughter Hotel has no hotel but rather a mental asylum for violent or nymphomaniacal women in which Klaus Kinski wanders around scowling. Don't ask why it's decorated with medieval weaponry, including an iron maiden in the drawing room, for this story delights in making so little sense, you might suspect it's a put-on. Indeed, the viewer will sit through most of it wondering why an alleged thriller consists almost entirely of nudity and semi-graphic sex scenes that are surprisingly strong for 1971 (check also the deleted footage), but if you have patience, the slaughter eventually arrives and proves as over the top as what came before.

The original Italian title translates to "The Beast Kills in Cold Blood", signaling that this belongs to the "animal" cycle of violent giallo-thrillers triggered by The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. As the notes indicate, the kernel of plot of reminiscent of Agatha Christie in a very perverse mood. This bit of widescreen delirium is scored by Silvano Spaddacino in a schizoid mix of lounge grooves and avant-garde noise that keep us as unbalanced as anything else. Again, we have a choice of Italian or English dubs; in this case, the Italian is preferable.

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